Question on Miracles of Jesus as Invented by the NT authors

 


Draft: October 8, 2001     |     Back to the Index     |    Summary


 

 

Well, couldn't the New Testament still be myth (in the anthropological but NOT classical sense) if it intended to set forth the life of Jesus as the 'new sacred pre-history'? In other words, couldn't the authors have intended it to replace the "old" Greco-Roman myths and sorta start history over again (almost like the calendar later changed to AD from BC)?

 

Yes, but with some qualification (smile). And I think that that is part of the early church's belief--that Jesus inaugurated the New Future (right in the middle of the "Old" Present).

 

Since one of the functions of anthropological myth is to connect the historical present with the pre-historical sacred past (and by doing so, authenticate that present), the gospel stories could easily function as such. They could deliberately have been put forth as the sacred time/events which explain the origin of the experience and reality of the early church (as bearers of the New Future in their community and lives). This would make perfect sense with what we know about the teachings of Jesus, the apostolic community, and the earliest church leaders/writers. And, it can easily be shown that the early church tried to persuade their Greco-Roman contemporaries to abandon the old mythology and embrace the truth of God's revealed message. Centuries later, they would also try to replace the pagan basic canon of education (e.g. Homer Inc) with a canon based on biblical exegesis (the 'battle of literatures'--see [HI:BEFCC]).

 

On the other hand, the gospels/NT also present the coming of Jesus as the 'end times'. He marked the 'New Future come early', and it--at the same time--emphasizes His connection with the great faith of biblical Israel. So, I am not so sure about how well a mythic understanding of the gospels would 'fit' this pattern, which seems to be a good bit broader and more extensive than just 'pre-history'.

 

However, this functional understanding of the gospels as a "founding myth" would have two MAJOR implications for our question about the truth-status of the miraculous elements contained therein:

 

 

One. The miracles appear to be an essential feature of both the sacred (recent) past in the life of Jesus AND OF the present experience of the early church. Let me explain this.

 

In "normal myth" the events and 'physics' of the sacred pre-history do NOT apply to the present (except in re-enactment rituals, where it is 'imitated' deliberately). The gods constantly appeared and interacted with humans in Athenian myth, but not with Athenians in real life [HI:HTG:205], and the Roman poet Catallus catalogs the kinds of ways in which the ancient Gods not longer interact with Romans--even arguing that seeing a god is actually dangerous and even fatal in his day [HI:LRR:105].

 

"The same was true of the Greek myths. They took place 'earlier,' during the heroic generations, when the gods still took part in human affairs. Mythological space and time were secretly different from our own. A Greek put the gods 'in heaven,' but he would have been astounded to see them in the sky. He would have been no less astounded if someone, using time in its literal sense, told him that Hephaestus had just remarried or that Athena had aged a great deal lately. Then he would have realized that in his own eyes mythic time had only a vague analogy with daily temporality" [HI:DGBM:18]

 

The basic discontinuity/distance between sacred time and present time (discussed above) would normally mean that the more 'supernatural' of the stories in pre-history would NOT re-occur in real-history, except in some more 'shadowy' form of ritual.

 

But in the New Testament literature--contrary to what one would expect under standard understandings of myth--there is a definite theme of continuity between the events/physics of the life of Christ and the events/physics of the apostolic age! The 'break' between sacred pre-history (in the life of Jesus) and 'real' history (in the lives of the New Testament church) doesn’t exist.

 

Take for example the dual-work of Luke-Acts. In it the same author is chronicling the life of Jesus and the life of the post-Ascension early, apostolic church. The same types of miracles occur in the lives of the apostles and disciples. The same types of supernatural disclosures from heaven occur. And, the extraordinary events taking place in Acts are happening (on a time line) BEFORE the gospel stories are being written down.

 

Think about this last point for a minute. The miracles which God allowed the early missionaries to perform in front of non-Christians (cf. Heb 2.4: This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.), were being experienced before the gospels were written down. The gospels were subsequently written down--with the miracles of Jesus included--and any 'impulse' to take the miracles 'mythically' is simply not present. They were experiencing miracles first-hand, related to the power of Jesus, and this reality certainly was 'explained' by the Master's comments that they would do "even greater works" as they built the community of God.

 

In other words, if I as a first-century Christian am personally seeing miracles being done by Jesus' immediate followers (i.e., disciples/apostles), then when I finally get my "first copy" of the Gospel of Mark, I won't be 'tempted' to see the miracles of Jesus as mythic. I won't be inclined to dismiss/demythologize them at all. I will most likely see them as they present themselves in the text--as historical events.

 

In short, the character of the past/present stories preclude the 'standard' understanding of myth as applying (at least to the miracles as events). Although the gospels DO provide a grounding/founding history for the Church (as 'myth' does), the supernatural elements appear on BOTH SIDES of the founding events of the crucifixion and resurrection events on that first Easter. The miracles in the story of Jesus are shown to NOT be some 'otherworldly' stories that were non-repeatable in the present. This would count as anthropological myth (sort of), but NOT as classical, Greco-Roman myth (as known by the 'intended readers' of the New Testament literature).

 

 

 

Secondly, this apparent belief in the miracles of Jesus as being actual events created the interesting problem of how to narrate these events in a Greco-Roman world without being viewed as insane, deceptive, or illiterate by the dominant literary class!

 

The main problem here is that the people most likely to read the NT literature (apart from Christians) would be the Greco-Roman literary class (and one level below them). This class had repudiated the truthfulness of G-R myth for centuries. They had various degrees of belief in magic/sorcery, in oracles/prophecy, and in some of the gods/divine elements (so our later question on their gullibility is NOT answered by their disbelief in the myths, and therefore demands later treatment), but they were almost unanimous in rejecting epistemic belief in the mythological literature of their past. Their myths were NOT taken seriously as statements of 'real events', and was a constant source of embarrassment and frustration to many in those cultures.

 

I will give some of the statements supporting this below, but what this means for OUR question is this:

if you wanted to convince someone of the truthfulness of some miraculous event, the LAST THING you would do is to make it look like G-R myth! As soon as it showed up in genres which were standard media for myth (e.g., poetry, drama, hymns, many classes of oratory), it was 'discounted' as to its believability.

 

This would mean--for the New Testament writers--that for them to describe a miracle of Jesus in a way that 'sounded like' G-R myth, would be to insure that it would be scorned and discounted by the literary elite. This would argue strongly--given point One above that they understood the miracles of Jesus to be 'real' historical events--that the gospel stories would not have intentionally been cast into a form that would give this impression. Also, we should note before we get into the supporting detail, that much of what they found objectionable in myth was the miraculous, fabulous, or monstrous elements in it. (You can see the difficulty this mindset presented to an author intending to narrate events of healing, exorcism, and resurrections.)

 

We should also note here, that the literary elite exercised considerable power and influence over the next 'levels down'. (Literacy has always been a major source of power in the world--see [HI:GLLPT].) So, even though those gospels most aligned with G-R literary conventions (e.g., Mark and Luke/Acts) are considered to have been more addressed to the literate, urban, merchant, "middle class", the knowledge/education required to WRITE those gospels would have also taught them the 'danger and folly' of writing a document with 'miracles' in them…They would have known that the literary world would learn of them, and discount their stories as plasma (fiction)--as indeed Celsus did:

 

"Even Origen, in beginning his refutation of Celsus's [sic] work, acknowledges that the mystery of the resurrection, 'because it has not been understood,' is talked about and ridiculed by the unbelievers. In his True Doctrine Celsus has expressed profound skepticism about Jesus's [sic] raising of the dead as well as about Jesus's [sic] own resurrection. He obviously said or implied that the raising of Lazarus was a piece of fiction, inasmuch as Origen is obliged to reply to him in these terms. Here are Origen's words: 'That he really did raise the dead, and that this is not a fiction [plasma] of the writers of the Gospels, is proved by the consideration that, if it was a fiction [plasma], many would have been recorded to have been raised up, including people who had already been a long time in their tombs. But, since it is not a fiction [plasma], those of whom this is recorded may easily be enumerated.'" [HI:HAF:114f]

 

 

Let me try to organize this material below:

 

1. The original Greek myths were all in oral poetry form, and once written down, spawned two 'branches' of literature--prose (which deal with facts, basically) and poetry/drama (which dealt with facts+fiction). But even the earliest records indicate a 'problem of belief' for Homeric myth.

 

""With the invention of writing, epic poetry seems to have gone into decline; poets composed epics, to be sure, but the fragments that remain reveal inferior poems. In the fifth century tragic drama and historical narrative came about, partly in response to needs that epic poems had once satisfied. Tragedy mythologizes epic action; history endows it [i.e., epic--NOT myth] with motives, space, and time. Tragedy uses a highly stylized poetic language; history uses prose." [HI:AGLS:198]

 

"Nevertheless, the relationship of the Homeric poems to the various conceptions of divinity successively articulated in the Greek tradition between the sixth century B.C. and the Christian Middle Ages was never a comfortable one. It is surely one of the great and characteristic ironies of Greek intellectual history that, at the source of the tradition and at the dawn of Greek literacy, we find in full bloom a tradition of oral poetry apparently so utterly secularized, irreverent, and disillusioned that the gods could be used for comic relief." [HI:HTNNAR:vii]

 

 

2. The Greeks began cataloguing and studying their myths (as catalogued by the mythographers), and ran into the obvious problems of contradictions, absurdities, and moral embarrassment. Leading historical (prose) Greek thinkers tried to deal with the problem in several ways: explaining the myths as legendary embellishments of actual events (e.g., turning legends about mortals into myths about immortals), providing "rationalizations" that de-mythologized them (e.g. explaining judgments as simple natural occurrences), and allegorizing them (e.g., some god's fabulous rescue as a 'symbol' of human virtue as 'savior'). And some myths were simply rejected by many.

 

"It is a tribute to the influence of Thucydides that after him myth could only with difficulty be rescued or redeemed. In later historians we can see only three possibilities: avoid mythos altogether; try to 'rationalize' or 'de-mytholigise' them; or, as Lucian suggests, include them but leave their credibility to the reader to decide. If one included them, one had to defend oneself. Eventually--we cannot pinpoint exactly when--mythical material was seen as a suitable element in digressions, where the reader might be diverted in loci amoeni from the more serious material of history" [HI:ATAH:118]

 

 

3. More fabulous stories--some of later, historical events--were also catalogued, by a group called the paradoxographers (paradox meaning 'amazing' or 'unexpected' story--the same word used by Josephus to describe the miracles of Jesus), but these lists were not taken very seriously either, and were generally considered 'light reading' (perhaps something like some of our more outlandish supermarket tabloids).

 

"Of course, if it [paradoxography] is measured against the standard of scientific research or philosophic inquiry, paradoxography fails miserably, but it does so because it does not aspire to such lofty aims, for after all one could easily turn the standard around, asking how well scientific and philosophic treatises would fare as recreational reading. In truth paradoxography is not so much bad science and bad ethnography as it is entertaining reading with a flavour of learning. It is a kind of popular literature, writing that aims to be broadly accessible by making minimal demands on its readers by concerning itself more with content than with style and by entertaining rather than challenging. It is light reading that does not take itself very seriously." [HI:Phlegon:9]

 

 

4. The historians (e.g. Herodotus and Thucydides) tried to sort through the tangled myths to find true history, and were frequently frustrated and skeptical of the material. And they were constantly criticizing each other for being deceitful, gullible, etc. in how they individually dealt with the problems of truth-in-myth. When they quoted some fabulous tale, they often "disclaimed it" in various ways and with various introductory remarks.

 

"Relevant myths should be narrated, but you should not commit yourself to the truth of them; leave that to the reader. Take no risks, come down on neither side." [Lucian, How to write history, 60 [HI:ALC::537ff]]

 

"Diodorus maintains a careful narrative manner both in his accounts of the Greek gods...long passages are given in indirect discourse governed by 'they say' 'it is said', 'the myth writers say' and the like." [HI:ATAH:121]

 

"Like Diodorus, Livy reveals a care in the narration as he proceeds; unlike Diodorus, he does not do this by long passages of indirect discourse, but rather by consistent reminders in the early books of the fact that he is reporting tradition. Occasionally he will explicitly call attention to the questionable nature of his materials… the story of Horatius at the bridge is described as a deed 'destined to have more fame than credence among posterity'; so too in the narrative of the taking of Veii, Livy prefaces an addition to one of the episodes with the words, 'a fabula is introduced in this place'. ..Livy, however shows his awareness of the problematic nature of myth by frequently juxtaposing a natural and a supernatural explanation, and this resembles Dionysius' use of both a 'mythic' and 'historic' explanation." [HI:ATAH:124]

 

"Naturally, he [Tacitus] is cautious: the phoenix's abilities at regeneration are described as 'uncertain and exaggerated by the marvellous', and Tacitus will vouch only for the fact that the bird appears from time to time in Egypt. He brands the story of Nero as an infant being watched over by serpents as 'mythical and similar to foreign marvels'" [HI:ATAH:125]

 

"Pausanias, who is a specialist in myth rather than a historian in the strict sense of the word, unblinkingly reports most of the legends he hears, but sometimes, in an outburst, he bans all intervention of the gods from myth." [HI:DGBM:73]

 

"He [Pausanias] ends up admitting that fables seem to him to emerge from pure and simple naiveté, and sometimes he refuses to accept his responsibility: 'I repeat the current Greek legend,' he writes." [HI:DGBM:96]

 

"As Herodotus remarks more than once (e.g., 7.152.3), 'My job is to write what has been said, but I do not have to believe it.' Here he seems to be rather boldly and clearly setting out the two levels of cultural fact with which he is dealing. When he says, 'As to what the Egyptians say, let him believe it who finds it believable' (2.123), he means to say that this oral tradition is what defines Egyptian culture; in that sense it is true. Whether the stories told are objectively true or are literally believable is something else, to be decided by each reader for himself. Elsewhere, in a discussion about a goddess, Herodotus says, 'I should imagine, if one must take a stand concerning things divine…' (9.65). By this he means he is reluctant to decide about the truth or falsehood of the goddess's action because it is irrelevant to the kind of truth he is establishing." [HI:AGLS:204f]

 

 

 

5. The philosophical Greek tradition generally tended to use allegorizing and sometimes outright skepticism (even in early philosophers)  in their dealing with the material.

 

"The learned did not believe in monsters, hippocentaurs, chimaeras, or Scylla, and Lucretius stated this skepticism in terms of Epicurean physics. And this is why no one any longer believed in the combat between the Giants and the gods: that the gods found giants who had feet made of serpents is a conception unworthy of their majesty, as well as biologically impossible." [HI:DGBM:72]

 

"The second rational explanation of myth was based on its allegorical nature. This also has a very long tradition, from the Presocratic philosophers to the Stoics and Neoplatonist thinkers. According to this tradition, myth expresses a core of philosophical truths in poetic form, to make them easier for simple minds to understand and also more beautiful. Thus the chariot of Apollo represents the motion of the sun, the justice of Zeus stands for the existence of a providential reason sustaining the laws of nature, the generations of gods represent the order of the cosmos, and so on." [HI:TG:279]

 

"…by the end of the fifth century [BC] we have evidence of a series of rationalistic accounts of the origin of religion. First Democritus explained belief in the gods as in part a mistaken inference from terrifying natural phenomena, although he did not dismiss notions of the gods entirely…Secondly, Prodicus is said to have accounted for beliefs in the gods in terms of man's gratitude for the benefits he derives from such things as bread, water, wine and fire…Thirdly, and far more radically, a text from Critias' Sisyphus represents the gods as a human invention for the purposes of moral control…" [ HI:MRE:14f]

 

"The type of mythological rationalization with which we are here [Palaephatus] concerned carefully avoids the rationalizing of any myths about the major Greek gods and must be distinguished from the tradition represented by such writers as Prodicus of Ceos and Euhemerus. The latter tradition is fundamentally atheistic; the gods, it argues, can be explained away either as deified natural forces or as kings of past ages whose great deeds, special capacities and benefactions caused them to be revered and eventually worshipped by other humans…But the school of historical rationalization to which Palaephatus belongs is essentially different. It limits itself to rationalizing the myths of heroes and the various monstrous creatures with which they deal. It has as its fundamental purpose not the creating of disbelief, but rather the creating of belief. Its intention is to remove impediments to belief--belief in the historicity of the legendary heroes--by rationalizing away the 'flagrant violations of probability' in the heroic myths." [HI:OUT:8f]

 

 

6. Greek tragedy--as a dramatic form--differed from what the 'populace' believed anyway. The popular religious belief-system was much simpler than the elaborate creations of the great artists in poetry and drama. And the content of drama was also 'excused' from being accurate:

 

 

"When the histories of myths are concerned, a man should by no means scrutinize the truth with so sharp an eye. In the theatres, for instance, though we are persuaded there have existed no Centaurs who are composed of two different kinds of bodies nor any Geryones with three bodies, yet we look with favour upon such products of the myths as these, and by our applause we enhance the honour of the god." [Diodorus, cited at [HI:DGBM:48]

 

"My work in Athenian cult and belief inclines me to see the differences between these deities of the Panhellenic poetic tradition and the deities worshipped in Athens. The deities of poetry were well known, they were loved and hated in the literary context, and they were praised or criticized by poets and philosophers for ethical and theological reasons, but they were not worshipped as cult deities were. In the form that Homer and the tragedians present them, they did not have temples, sanctuaries, or altars in Greek cities. They did not receive dedications, sacrifices, or prayers. The gods of poetry are, I would claim, the products of literary fantasy and genius, not of the Greek religious spirit. Criticisms of these gods and of the myths encompassing them need not be criticisms of contemporary religion and of its beliefs and practices." [HI:HTG:4f]

 

"The gods of cult and poetry shared names, and this of course suggests some identification, but, to put it simply, they shared first names only. We do not know whether an Athenian, as he made his morning offering at the little shrine of Zeus Ktesios in his house, thought of Homer's thunder-bearing, cloud-gathering Zeus. There is no evidence that he did, and the two deities, both named Zeus, are very different in both appearance and function." [HI:HTG:4]

 

 

7. The literary leadership (mostly skeptical prior to the Roman conquest) participated in the mythic religious cults, but did so without 'intellectual assent' to much of the content--myth had become falsity. This would amount to a 'usefulness' criterion of truth, rather than a 'fidelity to facts' criterion.

 

"It is true that myth, in Greece, inspired epic poetry and theater as well as the plastic arts; yet it was only in Greek culture that myth was subjected to prolonged and penetrating analysis, from which it emerged radically 'demythologized.' If the word 'myth', in all European languages, denotes 'fiction,' it is because the Greeks declared it to be so twenty-five centuries ago." [M. Eliade, in WR:MYB:1:3]

 

"'But at the present time,' concludes Pausanias [d. 467/6 BC], 'when wickedness has grown to such a height and has been spreading over every land and every city, no longer do men turn into gods, except in the flattering words addressed to despots." [HI:DGBM:72]

 

"…the Greeks believe and do not believe in their myths. They believe in them, but they use them and cease believing at the point where their interest in believing ends…Myth was nothing more than a superstition of the half-literate, which the learned called into question." [HI:DGBM:84]

 

"But since acceptance [of the ancestral myths] was confined to the public sphere, leading neither to private faith nor theological orthodoxy, it was possible to separate belief into a series of levels, and this happened more and more. 'Believing' in the Olympian religion continued to mean the observance of common rituals and a participation in the body of narrated myth. These were the mark of belonging to a community, a culture, and a civilization in the same way as the use of the Greek language, a knowledge of Homer, and the shared customs of social life. At another level, this belief was quite capable of coexisting with monotheism or the immanence of a philosophical theology that gradually penetrated the upper classes from the fourth century B.C. on, in which the gods tended to be identified with the first god or, as with the Stoics, with the rational principle of order or an immanent nature. It could even coexist with the widespread religious skepticism among Greek intellectuals." [HI:TG:282. Note that this would not qualify as 'epistemic belief' at all]

 

 

 

 

8. But, while the prose stream of literature wrestled with the issue of historical truth, the poetic/dramatic side of the house was unconcerned--their mission was entertainment, pleasure, and provocation to imitate the lives of good exempla (some of which were found in myth).

 

9. The poetic arts, indeed, even manufactured new myths and elements of myth, elaborating semi-freely as it went. Speeches of praise (e.g., panegyric, encomium) were expected to include wonderful tales, miraculous elements, and plentiful embellishments--as was the dramatic art of tragedy.  Truth was a secondary issue for them--style, pleasure, entertainment, and excellence of craftsmanship were the main goals.

 

Diodorus argues that myth has value in the theatre, but is too uncertain/vague for history [HI:ATAH:119f]

 

Marvels and miracles were always more appropriate to poetry [X02:LFAW:123]

 

"First, the gods of tragedy are, like all gods of Greek literature, hybrids with various and sundry components from poetic (especially epic) and philosophical traditions, from cult, and from the poets' own inventiveness." [HI:HTG:10]

 

"The gods, religious officials, and rituals are, within rather broad limits, what the poet chose to make them in each play." [HI:HTG:12]

 

 

10. When the Romans conquered Greece, the merging of the two cultures had some strange results relative to literature. The Romans had no corresponding set of 'fabulous tales' like the Greeks had in their myths, so they were not accustomed to 'suspending belief' on such matters. They ridiculed the Greek myths and poems as being full of lies and deceptions, thinking that they were meant to be taken 'seriously'. The Greeks defended themselves by pointing out to the Romans that all the 'weird' stuff was in poetry--NOT in prose.

 

 

"Lucian specified only two things that the truthful historian had to avoid--panegyric and muthoi. The latter category is our second type [of lie]; for Roman authors, it provided evident proof that the Greeks were liars." [X02:LFAW:128]

 

"Valerius Maximus, for instance, in his chapter on friendship (4.7.4), contrasted a true story of Roman loyalty at the battle of Philippi with the tale of Teseus and Pirithous: "Let Greece talk of Theseus entrusting himself to the kingdom of Father Dis in support of the base loves of Pirithous. Only a knave would write such stuff, only a fool would believe it...These are the monstrous lies of a race given to deceit." [X02:LFAW:128]

 

The elder Pliny (Nat. Hist. 5.3-4), "portentous falsehoods of the Greeks" [X02:LFAW:128]

 

"The objection to such stories was that they involved miracles (monstra, portenta)." [X02:LFAW:128]

 

The Greeks had 2 responses to this criticism: (1) "First, the historian might include such stories 'not in ignorance of the facts, but inventing impossibilities for the sake of wonder and pleasure'; but he should make it clear that he was doing so, as Tehopompus evidently did [Strabo 1.35]. (2) Alternatively, he could rationalize the marvelous into the credible, like Dicaearchus in his Bios Hellado; 'by eliminating the excessively fabulous one reduces it, by reasoning, to a natural meaning'" [X02:LFAW:128]

 

Lucian: "Many other writers have adopted the same plan, professing to relate their own travels, and describing monstrous beasts, savages, and strange ways of life. The fount and inspiration of their buffoonery is the Homeric Odysseus, entertaining Alcinous' court with his prisoned winds, his men one-eyed, or wild or cannibal, his beasts with many heads and his metamorphosed comrades; The Phaeacians were simple folk and he fooled them totally." (p.31f) [preface to True History, 1.3]

 

 

 

 

11. The Romans, of course, had the same two-category structure but didn't realize it at first. Truth was for prose; myth/fable/fiction was for theatre. Eventually, though, the Greek conventions won out (since the conquered Greeks now became the literary teachers of the children of the Roman elite!), and poetry and certain categories of oration took on this 'fact plus fiction' intent. Indeed, not only could poetry and prose talk about the gods differently, but so too could the state. The state could also 'manipulate god-talk', since religion was a creation/invention of man:

 

"In it [the Antiquitates] Varro distinguished three ways of conceiving of divinity: a fabulous theology, including the stories of mythology and their elaboration at the hands of the poets; a natural theology, that is, the philosophers' theories on divinity, which must remain exclusively in the possession of the intellectuals of the ruling class and not be spread among the people, for fear that it would threaten the idea of the sacredness of the state institutions; and finally, the civil theology, which conceives of divinity in relation to a political need and thus is useful to the state. Varro took this arrangement of religion from Stoic theology but adapted it to contemporary concerns: the political necessity of preserving the cultural inheritance of Roman religion, even without accepting its credo. The very structure of the Antiquitates, which puts Res Humanae before Res Divinae shows how for Varro religion, with its cults and rituals, was a creation of men." [HI:LLAH:213]

 

"Augustus himself seems to have had a sense of humor about his divine honors…There is no indication that he cared for adulation in itself…But for Augustus the imperial cult was primarily an instrument of politics." [HI:DRE:236-7]

 

 

12. Poetry, even though it was of questionable historical and factual value, was still VERY useful for learning, since the excitement caused by the fabulous was sometimes the only way to keep the student interested!

 

"Homer does not, as Eratosthenes says, speak only of places near at hand or in Greece. He gives also much accurate information of remote places. He does indeed tell fables more than his successors, but they are not all just wild fantasies. They are allegories or fictions or sermons composed for instruction. This is especially so with the wanderings of Odysseus. Eratosthenes is sadly astray about this, when he tries to prove that Homer's interpreters and Homer himself are talking nonsense. This is worth a fuller discussion. For one thing, myths have been accepted not only by poets but, even earlier, by cities and lawgivers, for their utility. They have observed what comes naturally to a reasoning animal. Man loves knowledge; the prelude to this is a love of fable. This is the area in which children begin to listen and increase their understanding. The reason is that fable is a novelty of a kind-it does not tell of the ordinary, but of something new; novelty and the previously unknown are pleasant; and this is what makes us fond of knowledge. The addition of the wonderful and marvelous intensifies the pleasure--and pleasure is the charm to make us learn. These enticements are necessary in the early stages; as the child grows older, and his mind strengthens and has no need of cajoling, he may be brought to the knowledge of real things. In a sense, all ordinary uneducated people are children, and love fable in the same way. Indeed, the same is true of the partly educated, who have little strength of reason and preserve their childhood habits. The marvelous is both pleasing and frightening; both children and adults need both these elements. We impress on children pleasing stories to encourage them, frightening ones to deter them: Lamia, Gorgo, Ephialtes, Mormolyce are such bogies. Most adult citizens, too, are encouraged by pleasing myths, when they hear the poets relating heroic deeds of mythology--the Labours of Heracles or Theseus, or the honours given by the gods--or when they see paintings, statues, or sculptures representing such mythical dramas. Similarly, they are deterred by learning, by word or by visible images, of divine punishments, terrors, or threats, or even by coming to believe that people have encountered such things. A mob of women and common folk cannot be summoned to piety and holiness and belief by philosophical argument; superstition is the only means, and this involves fables and marvels. The thunderbolt, the aegis, the trident, the torches, the snakes, the thyrsus-lances, are fables, primitive theology. The founders of our societies, however, used these tales as bogies for infantile minds. This characteristic of mythology, and its value in the transition to communal and public life and the acquisition of genuine knowledge, led the ancients to continue elementary education right up to adult life. They thought that all ages could receive adequate moral training through poetry. It was only later that history and philosophy, as it now is, appeared on the scene. Philosophy has a small audience; it is poetry, and above all Homer's, that is useful to the multitude and can fill the theatres. The first historians and scientists, moreover, were mythographers....It was because Homer regarded his fables as educative that he thought so much of truth, while also 'placing therein' some falsehoods. The truth he himself accepted; the false he used to manage and command the multitude. [Strabo "Against Eratosthenes' view that poetry is entertainment" I,2,7-9, cited in HI:ALC.pp.303f]

 

"For just as mandragora planted beside vines and transmitting its quality to the wine makes the effect on the drinker milder, so poetry, by taking some arguments from philosophy and combing them with an element of fable, makes learning easy and agreeable to young people. Future philosophers therefore must not avoid poetry. [Plutarch "How young men should study poetry" [HI:ALC:510] ]

 

 

 

13. By the time we get to the first-century Roman empire, the epistemic belief (as opposed to the 'pragmatic belief' associated with cult/ritual) in the myths was very, very weak. The same need for allegorizing was still there. And attempts to deify the mortal emperor (e.g., Augustus) were not as big a deal as they would have been back with 'gods were bigger'. When gods are smaller than they used to be, and when humans are bigger than they used to be, it is much more easy to take the step of deifying a Roman leader. [But, boy, does this not work in the Jewish culture of the day, where there is an infinite gap between God and humanity--but that's a later story.]

 

"An important service performed by the lies of Dio, Plutarch, or Antonius was the reconciliation of the better read, more analytically minded worshippers with the traditions that had their birth in much older times. To men like these three and their listeners, Olympian fables seemed ridiculous, half of Homer was not sacred text but an embarrassing joke, and the rituals addressed to stone, even to ivory and golden idols, offended all reason. Yet Homer still deserved the reverence of those able to see (as Dio Chrysostom put it) that he 'spoke in parables and images.' In a long tradition from before Plato's day down the centuries through the Stoic school especially, not only were the stories about Kronos or Zeus or Aphrodite defended as inspired revelation (if properly understood), but so were the baboon and crocodile deities of ancient Egypt and any number of apparently nonsensical rituals; and discussions of this explanatory sort continued into the late empire, no less important even then as a shield against attack from Christians." [HI:CP48C:48f]

 

"When Livy or Cicero in De republica write that Rome in enough of a big city for people to respect the tales with which she adorned her origins, they are not bluffing their readers with ideological stories--quite the contrary. As good reporter-historians, they disdainfully allow each of their readers to choose his preferred version of the facts. Nonetheless, they reveal that on their part they do not believe a word of these tales." [HI:DGBM:83]

 

"Twenty or thirty years ago it would have been relatively uncontroversial to state that educated Romans of  historical times did not seriously believe in their gods or in state rituals or in emperor cult; that any core of real belief must have been located in domestic rites, not public ones; that no one believed in the foreign myths imported from Greece. All such statements have since become problematic, not so much because people now claim that the Romans did in fact believe in all these things and in all these ways, but because the meaning and relevance of the term 'belief' have been called into question." [HI:LRR:12. Note carefully that the reason given now for NOT accepted the 'uncontroversial' conclusion is that one can change the meaning of the word 'belief'. Feeney will go on, like Veyne, to re-define belief to connote something more like 'usefulness' or 'socially functional' instead of epistemic belief--its conventional meaning. This is a tacit admission, as in Veyne, that the Greeks and Roman educated class did NOT epistemically believe their myths (as indicated by their own statements, of course). This is not to fault Veyne/Feeney, of course, for their excellent work, but rather to avoid errors of equivocation in our discussion of whether myths were taken seriously in the first-century Roman world--epistemically speaking.]

 

"Power and immortality are the quintessential marks of ancient divinity, and the power and immortality of Augustus were both bound up with the representations of poetry. The poets were vital participants in the manifold debate about Augustus which conditioned the terms of his power; when it came to immortality, the poets' role was even more important, for they and Augustus knew that immortality was, in the end, out of his hands." [HI:LRR:114]

 

"As a matter of fact the true Roman had become too indifferent and skeptical toward the gods of the state religion to be very much shocked by the inclusion of men with the gods." [HI:DRE:51]

 

"But, like most of the educated men of his day, he [Horace] had little faith in the old gods of the state and his references to the emperor as a being on the same plane as the gods are rather an expression of deep personal admiration than of real religious fervor…By the time of Ovid and Manilius the expression of Augustus' divinity….are already tinged with the language of flattery that is so distasteful in the works of Lucan and Martial in the century that followed." [HI:DRE:235]

 

 

 

14. In the New Testament period, all types of wonders and miracles and portents could be ascribed to a leading figure--as long as it was done in poetic and/or poetry-based art forms. And, because they were in these forms, and because everyone expected such embellishments, they were taken with a grain of salt. There were school-taught rules as to how MUCH embellishment could be added and what types could be added. But all in all, the poetic and praise-oriented oratory forms were understood to be 'questionable as to truth status', but their goals--as poetic forms--were concerned with other issues anyway.

 

"Ancient readers recognized, appreciated, and could discount rhetorical exaggeration, while modern readers find that task difficult. Menander Rhetor (third century A.D.) recommended that miraculous signs attending the birth of an emperor be invented for speeches praising him (371.3-14) [NTLE:65-66]

 

Letter from Pliny to Tacitus (7.33.10): "This sequence of events, such as it is, you will be able to make more notable, more distinguished and more important, though I'm not asking you to go beyond the norm for an incident of this type: history oughtn't to exceed the truth, and truth is quite adequate for honourable deeds.' [cited at [X02:RCH4S:90]]

 

"The first error to consider is a serious one. It is that many writers neglect research into facts and dwell instead on the praises of rulers and generals. They magnify the merits of their own men, and unduly disparage the enemy's. They do not see that the isthmus that divides history from encomium is no narrow strip. There is a great wall built between them. To use a musician's phrase, they are two whole octaves apart. The encomiast is concerned with one thing only--to praise and gladden his subject by any and every means. If he has to lie to achieve this end, it doesn't' much worry him. History, on the other hand, cannot tolerate the least fragment of untruth--any more that the windpipe, or so the doctors tell us, tolerates objects that enter it when swallowed." [Lucian, How to write history, 7 [HI:ALC::537ff]]

 

"Naturally, he [Tacitus] is cautiousHe brands the story of Nero as an infant being watched over by serpents as 'mythical and similar to foreign marvels'" [HI:ATAH:125]

 

"the specifically 'mythic' element that he [Lucian] rejects in history is the exaggerative and inappropriate description of individuals as possessing the attributes of gods. Not only are the gods outside the realm of history; so too are descriptions that smack of exaggeration and that would suggest that humans behaved like gods or achieved more than humanly possible..." [HI:ATAH:126]

 

"The age of Augustus, from the confident poetry of his first decade to the elegiac celebrations included among Ovid's poetry of exile, found in poetry a more flexible medium for panegyric, since its command of mythology and tropes such as hyperbole lent itself more easily to praises not warranted by achievement." [HI:RLCCA:137]

 

"Jokingly [in Cicero's Brutus] Atticus tells his brother: 'You can say that; to orators it is permitted to lie about historical facts in order to bring some aspects into sharper focus.'" [HI:HAF:58]

 

"Menander indicates elsewhere the freedom he would allow to speeches of praise--here, however, praising men, not gods: 'You should invent dreams and pretend to have heard certain voices and wish to proclaim them to your listeners, or of dreams, for example, that Hermes stood by your bed at night, commanding you to announce who was the best of the magistrates; and, 'Obedient to his commands, I will repeat from the very center of theaters what I heard him say…'" [HI:PTRE:17f]

 

 

15. Needless to say, the freedom to make exalted claims about a leader--especially a wealthy, patron(!)--could appear self-serving for the "praise-or" at times…and was often suspected of being originated by the "praise-ee" for political reasons! And political propaganda was always referring to 'miraculous signs' and 'oracles' about the reigning ruler's divinely-sanctioned expertise (or about the inevitability of the challenger's coup).

 

"One reason for the declining popularity of contemporary history was the inhibition that people felt in expressing their honest options. Under Hellenistic monarchs and Roman emperors open criticism of those in power was unsafe, while praise could be interpreted as a sign of servility and dependence." [HI:TGH:144]

 

"…Severus…who had published throughout the empire the signs connected with his rise to power…" [PE:145]

 

"Cicero was not above manufacturing a few visions for himself to fill out the poem that he wrote on his travails. They were appropriate to an epic hero." [PE:149]

 

"Julius Caesar had a great deal to say about his own divine connections" [PE:149]

 

"Every emperor about whom any detailed information has survived advertised some sort of divine favor, and it was not just court favorites who spread it abroad. The panegyric was the ideal way to let the emperor's followers know what was important…" [PE:162]

 

"Centuries earlier, the historian Josephus had saved his own life by breaking into a prophetic fit before the general Vespasian--telling him that he would become emperor…" [PE:167]

 

"Even in the early second century Scipio Africanus the elder is perhaps a case in point, though it has been shown that many of the details of his 'legend' sound like inventions of the panegyrists who contributed to the idea of the divine connections which he and his family tried to foster." [HI:DRE:55]

 

"Certainly not all Caesar's divine honors were self-inspired. Many of them were invented by flatters; some of them were even the invention of men who wished to increase the hostility to him. If the poetry of the period had been preserved, we might perhaps judge whether Caesar aroused anything like the profound admiration and reverence that Augustus later inspired." [HI:DRE:77]

 

"It is clear from the case of Sextus Pompey that these claims to divine connections on the part of the leaders were used largely as a form of propaganda." [HI:DRE:120]

 

"The same technique of de-emphasis is used elsewhere in Livy's history. It  can only reinforce the inclination of his readers--at least his modern readers--to interpret the augural intervention as a publicity stunt and its outcome as a foregone conclusion. After all, Livy takes care to mention that the augur was afterwards rewarded with a permanent priesthood." [HI:HAF:50]

 

 

 

16. But biographical writing--even when embellishing--had limits which were imposed by a 'critical readership'.

 

"Consequently, they [encomiasts] fail to achieve their main object. The subjects of their praises, especially if they are men of a spirited cast of mind, come to dislike and despise them as flatterers. Aristobulus [court biographer of Alexander] once composed an account of a duel between Alexander and Porus. He made a particular point of reading this passage aloud, because he thought he would give the king great pleasure by inventing heroic actions for him and attributing to him imaginary deeds far in excess of the truth. Alexander however seized the book--they were sailing on the Hydaspes--and threw it straight into the water. 'And that's what I ought to do to you, Aristobulus', he said, 'for the duels you fight on my behalf, and the elephants you kill with a single spear.' It was entirely natural that Alexander should be angry...So where is the pleasure in all this, except for anyone foolish enough to enjoy praises which can be refuted out of hand?" [Lucian, How to write history, 12 [HI:ALC::537ff]]

 

 

 

17. Sober historical writing--as in Greece--still demanded an absence of rhetorical exaggeration and required rejecting such exaggeration in any source materials (such as eulogies). Embellishment was allowed only in 'filling in the scene' (ornare) NOT in creating 'new hard data' (see my discussion on Invented Speeches for more discussion of the limits of ornare, at the end of stil1720.html):

 

..."Elaborating the data...All right for an orator or a tragic poet, but permissible to a historian only with a laugh, to show that he was going beyond his proper function--lying, in fact, for dramatic effect" [X02:LFAW:133]

 

"What Cicero's Atticus calls lying (ementiri) is when you know the facts but deliberately substitute a more dramatically effective version." [X02:LFAW:134]

 

"The historians themselves were sometimes conscious of the danger of taking as historical something that had been invented for the stage." [X02:LFAW:134]

 

"Even Plutarch and Dionysius occasionally suspect the presence of dramatic fiction (plasma) in some item of the tradition, though not nearly often enough for modern tastes." [X02:LFAW:135]

 

"Discussing the size of Hannibal's forces in the invasion of Italy, Polybius contrasts his own accurate information, drawn from contemporary documents, with that of other historians who merely invent details to add verisimilitude (3.33.17). They are, he says, 'plausible liars'" [X02:LFAW:141f]

 

Cicero: "Yet the writing of Roman history has been falsified by these eulogies, since they contain many instances of events which never took place: false triumphs, extra consulships, false genealogies and transfer to the people..." [X02:RCH4S:91]...[Livy makes the same complaint]

 

"Secondly: these people seem to be ignorant of the distinction between the professions and rules of poetry and poems on the one hand, and of history on the other. Poetry enjoys unqualified freedom. Its sole law is the poet's will. He is possessed and inspired by the Muses. If he wants to harness a team of winged horses, or make people run on water or over the top of the corn, nobody complains. When the poets' Zeus suspends earth and sea from a single chain and swings it around, people aren't afraid of the chain breaking and the universe crashing to destruction., If they want to praise Agamemnon, there is no one to prevent them saying his head and eyes are like Zeus, his chest like Zeus' brother Poseidon, his belt like Ares; the son of Atreus and Aerope, in fact, has to be a compound of all the gods, because no one of them alone, Zeus or Poseidon or Ares, suffices to fill the demands of his beauty. If history admits any flattery of this sort, it becomes a sort of prose poetry. Without the grandiloquence of poetry, it presents all its monstrosities in an unmetrical form, and thus more conspicuously. It is a great, indeed an enormous mistake not to understand the distinction between poetry and history, but to try to introduce into the latter the embellishments of the former--fable, encomia, and all their exaggerations. It is as if one were to take some very tough, rugged athlete, dress him up in pink, and all the gear of a high-class prostitute, and rub red and white on his face. What a hideous and ridiculous figure he would cut in his finery!...There is more to be said. In history, anything really fictional does not even give pleasure; while any element of encomium is obnoxious to the reader, whichever way it goes--if you are thinking, that is, not of the common mob but of those who will listen judiciously or even with malevolence. Nothing will escape these people. They see sharper than Argus, and have eyes all over. They weigh up every sentence with the precision of a money-changer, so as to reject the counterfeit and accept only the true, lawful currency, with its proper mark. This is the audience to have in your mind's eye when you write history. Never mind about the rest, even if they burst themselves with praise. If you neglect the real critics and season your history too highly with fables and encomia and such flattering stuff, you will soon make it look like Heracles in Lydia." [Lucian, How to write history cited in HI:ALC:537-9]

 

"An important distinction that Polybius emphasizes again and again is that between intentional and unintentional falsehood in history. The latter, he says, is inevitable, given human nature and (for himself particularly) the vast amount of  material to be included in his history; the proper response to this type of falsehood is pardon and generous correction. Intentional falsehood, on the other hand, deserves censure and an implacable and harsh accuser. Once detected, it poisons a whole history." [HI:ATAH:222]

 

"Some have declared that ancient historiography was more like a historical novel than a modern history. There is some truth to this. But at bottom there is a fundamental difference: the novelist freely creates characters and episodes as his story requires; the historian cannot be anywhere near so free--or at least he should not. He is bound to follow his sources, both oral and written report: his 'imaginative reconstruction' must be based on them and them alone." [HI:TGH:6]

 

"One must conclude that the Latin verb [ornare] means something more than "adorn superficially," "decorate,"   "embellish." It implies description and amplification, and it extends considerably beyond the mere introduction of political commentary, praise and blame, and other common historical elements. Clitarchus, for example, did not merely brush in strokes but painted a scene, and he not only painted it but invented it. It is vital to note, however, that only the imaginative reenactment is covered by the term ornare; the false and contrived nature of the scene is expressed adverbially by tragice et rhetorice. Ornare in itself is to take a fact and from it to set a scene, developing its latent potentialities. But in a historical work ornare subserves the laws of history and is tested by the standard of the truth. Otherwise how could Cicero declare that the law of history was truth and yet condemn the Roman writers for the absence of ornare?...Ornare therefore designates a technique that involves much more than stylistic ornamentation, and the implication of the term (in this context) is entirely free from the idea of meretricious adornment. The term comprehends the activity of mimesis and, as Cicero well knew, defines a requirement of historiography in which the Greeks far surpassed the Latins. Ornare can be applied to true tradition, as the "laws of history" prescribe, or to false tradition in the manner of Clitarchus. Thus, if you develop the inherent possibilities of a true datum, ornare is legitimate; if from a fiction (where the psychology may be to delight the reader), the practice is culpable." [NHAGR:136]

 

"The historian owes it to himself to eliminate the gods from the mythical period. Neither Cicero nor Livy believed that Mars was the father of Romulus, and Pausanias does not believe that a nymph was the mother of Orpheus." [HI:DGBM:73]

 

 

18. Writers could write about the gods in mythology and then denounce these same gods in philosophy and prose(!), and the same "disconnect" between poetic theology and popular religion we saw in Athens is evident in Roman religion as well.

 

"the same Seneca who composed mythological poetic dramas denounces the trivial untruths of the poets in his philosophical treatises." [HI:LRR:16]

 

"The cult of Bona Dea presents a perhaps even more perplexing case. Although here we have much more literary discussion of the cult to supplement the extensive epigraphic evidence, nonetheless, as the author of a recent exhaustive study of Bona Dea says, 'the two kinds of sources - archaeological-epigraphic and literary - barely complement each other to produce a uniform picture. They rather seem to contradict each other in a not inconsiderable number of instances." In particular, the literary sources show us a cult which is aristocratic, part of the state religion, observed exclusively by women of the elite, and confined to the city of Rome: the epigraphic evidence shows us males, foreigners, slaves and freedmen amongst the worshippers, and a host of personal and private dedications throughout Italy and (sporadically) the whole Empire." These two pictures have practically nothing in common apart from the name of the goddess. Another example of such a phenomenon is to be found in the cult of Silvanus, where the discrepancies between the literary and epigraphic evidence are similar, although rather less dramatic …If there are disparities between the pictures presented of a single deity's cult by literary and non-literary sources, we may observe further that even the same divine name may cover many different cults in the city." [HI:LRR:18]

 

 

19. This pre-disbelief of miracles by the literary leadership can be vividly demonstrated from the writings of Josephus. As he tells the story of the Hebrew bible to his G-R readership, he de-emphasizes some of the miraculous elements of the text.

 

"Because one of the stock charges against the Jews is excessive credulity (e.g. Horace, Satires 1.5.97-103), Josephus tends to down-grade miracles or to present scientific-like explanations of them or to give the reader the choice as to how to interpret them. Thus, he makes the miracle of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds more credible by pointing to an actual incident in Greek history, namely the case where the Pamphylian Sea retired before the advance of the army of Alexander the Great (Ant. 2.348). Again, he presents the miracle of the earth opening her mouth and swallowing up Korah and his followers as an earthquake (Ant. 4.51). Likewise, instead of an angel appearing to Gideon we have a specter phantasma (Judges 6:11 vs. Ant. 5.213). Moreover, Josephus omits Gideon's challenge to the angel to produce miracles Judges 6:13 vs. Ant. 5.214). The Apocryphal Addition (D 13) states that Esther fainted when she saw Ahasuerus as an angel; Josephus says not that she saw him as an angel but rather that he looked great, handsome, and terrible (Ant. 11.240).

 

"Josephus tones down the miracle of the feeding of Elijah by the ravens (I Kings 17:2-4) by omitting G-d's command to the ravens and by stating instead that the ravens brought food to him every day, presumably of their own accord (Ant. 8.319). He scientifically explains the miracle of the fire licking up the water at Mount Carmel by saying that the water came up as steam (Ant. 8.342). Instead of the miracle of Elijah's ascension in a whirlwind in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11-12) he says simply that Elijah disappeared without giving any further details (Ant. 9.28).

 

"To be sure, Josephus does include Balaam's speaking ass (Ant. 4.109), but this may not have been so incredible to students of Homer, who mentions Achilles' speaking horse (Iliad 19.408-17); and, in any case, at the end of the entire Balaam pericope Josephus adds his familiar disclaimer: "On this narrative readers are free to think what they please" (Ant. 4.158). If he does mention Elisha's miracle of curing the waters of Jericho (2 Kings 2:19-23), he explains it by natural means, and this too only in the War (4.46264), where his intended audience consisted of Jews (War 1.3), rather than in the Antiquities, where his readership consisted primarily of non-Jews. As to the miracle whereby, due to Elisha, the widow's empty vessels are filled with oil, he disclaims responsibility by asserting "they say" (Ant. 9.47-50). Furthermore, he omits completely Elisha's greatest miracle, the revival of the dead child of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:34). If he includes the miracle of Jonah's remaining alive for three days in the belly of the big fish Jonah 1:17), he is careful to present it as a story (logos Ant. 9.213); and, in an obvious disclaimer, he adds that he has simply recounted the story as he had found it written down (Ant 9.214). Interestingly, in the Antiquities, addressed as it is primarily to non-Jews, Josephus ascribes Sennacherib's withdrawal to a plague (Ant. 10.21); in the War (5.388), addressed primarily to Jews, he cites the role of an angel." [HI:SJRB:568ff]

 

 

20. In contrast with this historia approach ('softening' the miraculous), we might notice a Hellenistic dramatic work by a Jewish author somewhat earlier (2nd century BC), in which embellishments are expected due to the genre:

 

"The Exagoge is a tragic drama from the Hellenistic period which recounts the story of the exodus from Egypt. Its author, Ezekiel, is described as 'the poet of tragedies' by Eusebius…at various points Ezekiel exercises literary license to create material which is extraneous to the biblical narrative (e.g. Moses' dream and its subsequent interpretation by his father-in-law). Ezekiel also introduces characters in his drama who are fictional in terms of the narrative of Exodus (e.g. the Egyptian survivor who relates the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea). Such variations are generally in accord, however, with the dictates of the dramatic form which Ezekiel has adopted. In brief, Ezekiel's work represents a synthesis of the content of the biblical narrative of Exodus with the literary form of Greek tragic drama." [OTP:2:803]

 

"Finally, in a scene which greatly embellishes the biblical account, Ezekiel portrays the arrival of the Israelites at Elim, with a scout recounting an extraordinary sighting of the phoenix (243-260)" [NT:JMD:133]

 

 

[Note: The above material documents the generally agreed upon position that the G-Rs didn't take their myths very seriously at all--epistemically speaking--but this doesn't address the issue of gullibility of the readership, the issue of a sub-literary audience, or the issue of fabrication for reasons of propaganda. These are the subject matter of latter questions in the series.]

 

Other references above:

 

[X02:RCH4S] Rhetoric in classical historiography: four studies. A.J. Woodman. Areopagitica Press:1988 (Portland, Ore.)

 

[X02:LFAW] Lies and fiction in the ancient world. Christopher Gill and T.P. Wiseman (eds.). UtexasPress:1993. (Main article used: "Lying Historians: seven types of mendacity" by T.P. Wiseman):

 

 

 

 

……………………………………………………………………..

 

 

Summary:

 

1. The gospel literature DOES have some of the functions of 'founding/grounding mythic stories' (anthropologically speaking), but doesn't quite fit the descriptions of that category well enough to label it such.

 

2. The Jesus literature and post-Jesus literature show a continuity in their display of the miraculous, demonstrating that the miraculous elements are NOT considered mythic components in the Jesus stories (but rather, that they are to be taken as historical, real, foreground elements in both time periods).

 

3. Since these miracles, as non-mythic elements, would be meant to be taken seriously and literally, there were several G-R genres and literary forms/modes that could NOT be used to convey them as such. Poetic, dramatic, and rhetorical genres, for example, were expected  to contain deliberate fanciful tales and miraculous embellishments, and so readers would 'discount' or 'dismiss' the miraculous elements.

 

4. So, if the early gospel writers had used those non-prose, non-historical genres, then any miracle events they intended to describe would have been smiled at, but not taken seriously as evidence of God's in-breaking into history.

 

5. Hence, only prose-type genres would have been acceptable for NT writings, or otherwise the reality of God's activity in Jesus would have been thrown into the dubious (for the intended readers) category of G-R myth.

 

6. And, the fact that these miracle events were NOT communicated in poetic/dramatic/rhetorical form argues strongly that the gospel writers intended them to be taken as literal and historical events.

 

 

Glenn Miller

October 8, 2001

 

 

 


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